Infinite Love

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As a member of my church Missions committee I was recently doing some online research about the theology of Christian mission work.  I happened to tap into the website of a downtown church in San Francisco named RealitySF (http://realitysf.com/mission-philosophy/).  It was a great article to review the meaning of mission work and visit new perspectives on how it can find expression in my everyday life.

The website states that all mission work derives from the nature of God Himself.  The “personal Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is one who sends and goes. God sent Himself in His son Jesus to be the Jewish messiah, He sends His Spirit to guide and enable His people, and perhaps most mysteriously of all, He sends us, His people, into the world to reflect His image and fulfill His purposes. He does all this sending for one glorious reason: For He so loves the world, not willing that any should perish, but instead have everlasting life (John 3:16).

It goes on to say that “Yahweh is a moving God. He is missionary in nature, willing to travel vast distances to accomplish his purposes, because He loves us and wants to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.”  

I interpret “vast distances” not just in terms of geographical distance but relational distance such as the estrangement or hatred or indifference that exists among people.

Secondly, the article makes the point that mission work derives from our newfound (born again) identity in Christ.  Our “buy-in” to the Kingdom of God through Christ’s resurrection means that we are a “sent” people.  “We are sent with all of Christ’s purpose, passion and plans.  This is not an afterthought of the Father.  “As God’s people, we’ve been purposefully sent here, every one of us, as entrusted ambassadors of his kingdom.  In line with God’s original promise through Abraham, we are here to bless (not save) the world.

In living out our mission into the world, we, the Church, also move about the world, traveling as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) with the good news of God to every nation (Matthew 28:19).”

Then the writer makes an impressive point:  “Throughout Church history, most Christians have remained right where they are, working the same job in the same community, doing everything to the glory of God. This is no second-hand sentness. It is a perfectly glorious calling; mission doesn’t require geographic or vocational relocation. Rather, universally, it is simply a re-identification, or transferred citizenship, of the soul.”

Well, I was raised with the notion that a true missionary is one who relocates, often to distant, dangerous, unfamiliar and uncomfortable places.  Maybe, like me, you felt a bit uncomfortable on “mission Sundays” when professional missionaries would preach to the congregation.  As a young person I always recoiled a bit from the notion of giving up the American “good life” for a life of relative deprivation in some strange land.  I always wished them well, even admired them in a way, but couldn’t see myself becoming a missionary.  Still, I was curious about them, their work, and their motivation.

Answering these long-held questions, the article explained that for the Gospel to be spread throughout the world, to every nation, tongue and tribe, that some missionaries will have to relocate.  This is substantiated by Romans 10:14-15 “how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?”  But it wasn’t until I got involved with mission work as an adult that I realized there is a calling for the local mission field as well.

The article continued on in this vein:  “We usually dub mission (as) the intentional, physical relocation of some Christians. It’s what a portion of us do in practical response to who we all are and why we’re all here, as God’s sent people; it consists of practical, vocational decisions and tangible, geographic movements that mimic the missionary Spirit in all of us. Though God’s character is universal and all Christ-followers are missionaries, just a fraction of the Church is sent geographically or culturally. Most of us don’t need to go anywhere, as there is plenty of renewal to be done right where we are.”

More explanation of geographic and vocational missionaries was offered.  “When the Church sends individuals to new contexts to live as kingdom-ambassadors, our corporate passion for redemption takes physical form and becomes visible. In a sense, those who go are doubly sent, both in Spirit and in action. The glory of this missionary activity is that it tangibly demonstrates God’s pursuing character. Therefore, these vocational missionaries have a wonderful calling, devoting their residence and/or career to manifesting the mission of God and the Church. In turn, the greater body is able to echo God’s character by sending and supporting those who go. However, as good and necessary as physical missionary movement is, we must be careful not to overestimate or confuse this kind of work.”

“This is often where we get caught up, though, watching people quit their jobs and move into the inner city or overseas to Africa. Their sentness is obvious; you can see it everyday in their work. But, for the rest of us, ours is subtle and often indistinguishable. Because of this, we often develop a sense of mission envy, frustrated with the parody between our own invisible sense of sentness and the “missionary’s” more obvious calling. Many experience a Spiritual identity crisis, doubting their all-important missionary identity and elevating the importance of the traveling Christian. Sadly, much of our short-term mission culture has developed from this misled frustration. So, importantly, we have to learn to reconcile the two truths: Every Christian is a missionary and only some Christians are vocational ‘missionaries’.”

And then, this amazing summary paragraph:  “The relocated Christian is doubly sent, but not more sent than all the rest. Though distinct, vocational missionaries aren’t supreme in the kingdom like some kind of super-sent elite. Their sentness is no better or more valuable than the invisible sentness of every Christian. Physical relocation is an embodiment, not an upgrade. Those who relocate for the kingdom and those who stay put for the kingdom are equally sent, equally called, equally honorable. The vocation of missionary is not the perfect job, or even a better job than the rest. Rather, like cooking food or building roads or flying planes, it’s one of many great and glorious callings. The missionary Spirit of the Church demands physical spread and relocation, but this movement doesn’t alter the sentness of those who stay put. To rightly live into our own unique missionary callings then, we have to appreciate the complementary glory of the sent but stationary Church and the ambassadors that it sends. It’s paramount that we can celebrate the vocation of staying as well as going, seeing mission as both.”

Equally sent, equally called, equally honorable!!!  

The article claims The gospel minister heading to Malawi is no more fully sent by God than the Sales Exec at Google or the full-time mom. The gravity of our divine election and commission should diminish any sense of hierarchy in mission. Unfortunately though, our words confuse us. Every time we dub one person a missionary, for example, we imply that everyone else is not a missionary. We’re all sent, but the label suggests otherwise.”

So, if we’re all equally sent, called and honored, what does this look like in our everyday life as those who remain in Fallbrook?

Here are some brief guidelines provided in the article:

Others-focused. “Though it is indeed (personally) fulfilling and edifying to serve, because it’s better to give than receive, mission is about others, not us. True service doesn’t aim to receive the blessings of service, but rather focuses on the good of the recipient. Any blessing to be received is a side-effect, not the goal. The popular trend of serving cross-culturally in order to ‘grow together through mission’ puts the cart before the horse. Serving others must be an overflow of our formation in Christ, not the vehicle to achieving it. Though ministry is edifying, we must never use the needy to edify ourselves.”

“Because the focus of ministry is the wellbeing of others, the effects of our actions matter. Acting on good intentions and serving for the sake of service may soothe our souls, but it won’t cut it with those we serve. By definition, to love at all, we must aim to love well. Effective ministry is that which doesn’t just feel loving, but is loving. The aim of ministry is to, in genuine effect, love others well. Though this doesn’t mean we can control the outcomes of our service, we can and must make sure our service actually serves.”

Competent. “Commitment to effectiveness subsequently demands commitment to competence. Love, by nature, requires a certain level of aptitude; it seeks to be better, more truly loving. Service that doesn’t desire to be good and always better doesn’t love. God, like any good father, doesn’t give just to be a giver; he does so to give good gifts (Matt 7:11). There’s a difference. It matters whether our actions are good or merely feel good. If the goal of proclaiming the gospel is for it to be heard, for instance, then we must try to speak clearly and competently to make it as understandable as possible. This doesn’t mean we must be perfect or even have reached some level of expertise before participating in ministry; it simply means our devotion to others must cause us to desire the ability to love them well.

People-focused. “Though the systems and structures we live in need renewing, something the Church has never forgotten is that those things ultimately rise and fall as do the people that make them up. All of society ultimately depends upon the flourishing of every human being. Therefore, all ministry must keep at its core a commitment to people. Even if our goal is macro in scope, aimed at massive causes like fighting human trafficking, we must remember that the world’s problems as well as its potential are rooted in unique individuals, not stereotypes or statistics. This also means that programs aren’t the solution. There’s no idea, strategy or system that will ever fix the brokenness of the world because us people are the problem and we can’t be fixed or cured by anything man-made. Though these structures are good and helpful, they must never take the focus away from the care of individual human beings.”

Discipleship-focused. “Because human flourishing is the focus of ministry, we must always consider what actually causes people to thrive. Our primary problems are not material or circumstantial. The fundamental problem with the world is every individual’s separation from God, caused by sin. This catastrophic wound in our principal creature-Creator relationship is the root cause of all other brokenness. We aren’t at peace with ourselves or our work or the world or one another because we’re at enmity with God. This is why Christ died, to reconcile us to God and make us ministers of reconciliation to the world (Col 1:22, 2 Cor 5:18). Therefore, ministry must make this reconciliation central. This doesn’t mean all ministries must be primarily evangelistic, nor does it suggest focusing merely on whether people go to heaven or hell when they die. Instead, no service should focus entirely on synthetic solutions to periphery problems. Apart from personal reconciliation to God through Christ and abandonment to his will, flourishing is impossible. Whether directly or indirectly, ministry must focus on discipleship, helping people grow as disciples of Jesus.”

Mission not an action to be done, but a way of being.”

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